COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A man is in custody after stealing a patrol car and leading deputies on a high-speed chase Sunday night, according to the Columbus County Sheriff's Office.
Maj. Bobby Worley said two deputies stopped a Hyundai Sonata near the intersection of Jernigan Street and Stake Road in Tabor City at 8:23 p.m. He said the car matched the description of a vehicle used in area break ins.
William Heath Cox and Nathan Tyler, Jr. were in the vehicle. Deputies learned of an outstanding order for Tyler's arrest for failure to appear in court. They handcuffed Tyler and put him in the back of one of the patrol cars, according to Worley.
As the deputies questioned Cox, Tyler managed to move his cuffed hands in front of his body and make his way from the back of the patrol car to the driver's seat. There was no cage or divider in the vehicle, Worley said. Once in the driver's seat, Tyler drove away in the patrol car.
Using the remaining patrol car, deputies chased Tyler at high speeds through Tabor City and into South Carolina for about six miles. The chase ended when Tyler lost control of the patrol car on a sharp curve on Church Road and ran into a ditch, Worley said.
Horry County Police took Tyler into custody and charged him with possession of a stolen vehicle, Worley said. Tyler, 42 of Clarendon, faces charges in Columbus County including larceny of a motor vehicle, speeding and fleeing to allude arrest.
Tyler is in the Horry County jail, according to Worley.
He said the wrecked patrol car appeared to have only cosmetic damage to a fender.
Sheriff Lewis Hatcher said the incident could have been prevented if the stolen patrol car had a partition dividing the back and the front. Only five of the department's 39 patrol cars have partitions.
"To me, it's a major, major risk factor when you have someone sitting behind you and there's no divider between you," Hatcher said.
The sheriff said the first partitions were installed in January. Hatcher said they were a priority in his last budget request to county commissioners.
With each partition costing $500, Hatcher expects to gradually phase them in as funding allows. He said his budget request for the upcoming year includes 15 new patrol cars that would be equipped with partitions.
"I'm kind of behind the eight ball, trying to catch up," Hatcher said.
Deputies try to transport violent suspects in cars that do have partitions, the sheriff explained. But in such a large county, it's not always possible.
"At any given time, I'll have six officers (working during a shift). They could be spaced as far as 30 miles apart," Hatcher said. "They can't afford to just sit there and wait for a car to show up with a partition in it."